The Untold Truth Of Alan Wong

In a world of hot shot television food personalities like Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, Alan Wong is likely not the first name that comes to mind for someone who measures their favorite chef's value by the number of shows they have on the Food Network. And that's a shame, because the number of contributions that Wong has brought to the culinary arts, both in the kitchen and beyond, is truly incredible. In particular, he is among a dozen chefs who have made it their mission to help spread Hawaiian cuisine to the masses.

Highly decorated in the culinary world, Chef Wong is an advocate for local Hawaiian ingredients and farming. His beautiful dishes have impressed plenty of restaurant patrons and television viewers alike. (His numerous fans happen to include a popular former United States president.) And he's full of surprises. Read on to discover the untold truth of Alan Wong.  

He's one of the founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine

Alan Wong was Born in Tokyo in 1956 to his Japanese mother and half-Hawaiian, half-Chinese father (via Beyond the Lines). He lived on a military base in Japan until moving to Hawaii at the age of five. Wong started his culinary career at 15 by working on a pineapple plantation. He then attended the Kapi'olani Community College Culinary Arts program in Honolulu. From there, he went on to apprentice at Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, before moving to New York to work under the great Chef Andre Soltner at Lutèce. To this day, Wong considers Chef Soltner to be his mentor, and the driving force behind his knowledge of great cooking.

In 1991, Wong took that passion and the knowledge he'd acquired and teamed up with 11 other like-minded chefs to launch Hawaii Regional Cuisine (via Aloha Hawaii). The organization created a new American regional cuisine that featured locally grown ingredients from Hawaii, and highlighted the multitude of ethnic dishes and styles that could be derived from those ingredients. Launched several years before the "farm to table" explosion, Hawaii Regional Cuisine was ahead of the curve. The founders wanted to focus solely on locally sourced ingredients, featuring local farmers and fishermen. For the very first time, thanks to Wong and his fellow chefs, real attention was being directed to the great cuisine of the Hawaiian islands.

He's earned numerous accolades

Just a quick glance at Alan Wong's list of awards and achievements on his website would impress just about anyone. In 1994, Wong was recognized by Robert Mondavi Winery as one of 13 Rising Star Chefs in America. Just two short years later, he received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific Northwest. 

In 2001, he was named Chef of the Year by Sante Magazine and his eponymous Honolulu eatery, Alan Wong's, was ranked sixth in Gourmet Magazine's list of America's top restaurants. The hot spot earned Honolulu Magazine's Hale 'Aine Award for the best restaurant in the Aloha State on 10 different occasions. As a result, Wong was inducted into the Honolulu Magazine "Star Circle," a prestige reserved for 10-time winners. In 2013, he was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame at the American Culinary Federation National Convention in Las Vegas. He was the first Hawaiian chef to receive this honor, as reported by Pacific Business News.

He catered a luau at the White House

According to Eater, Alan Wong's in Honolulu was a favorite restaurant of Barack Obama and his family during his presidency. They often dined there whenever the Hawaiian native would return to his home state. On one such occasion in 2010, Alan Wong humbly expressed to Honolulu Magazine, "It's not the first time I've cooked for the President. But every time, it's a chicken skin moment." It seems even the best of the best can get a little intimidated and star-struck now and again.

President Obama even invited Wong to cook  a traditional luau feast for the annual White House Congressional picnic in 2009. HuffPost reports that the celebration was held by the president for members of Congress and their families. At the time, Wong told U.S. News & World Report, "This event gives us a chance to showcase to all Americans the Hawaiian contemporary cuisine that is based on fresh local ingredients and which blends all of the island's many ethnic influences."

Eater reports that in 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton selected Wong as part of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership's Initiative American Chef Corps. Secretary Clinton explained that duties of the Chef Corps included preparing meals for visiting dignitaries and engaging in cultural exchanges while traveling abroad. During a video address, she remarked, "Food isn't traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool, but I think it's the oldest diplomatic tool. Sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can."

He wrote two cookbooks

Along with his contribution to Janice Wald Henderson's "The New Cuisine of Hawaii," Chef Alan Wong is the author of two cookbooks. The first, "New Wave Luau," was released in 1999 to great acclaim. "In a unique triumph of East-West style, Alan Wong's New Wave Luau showcases Alan's signature blend of Pacific-Rim styles," writes Amazon.com editorial reviewer Dana Jacobi. "His genre-bending fare combines Western culinary techniques with the flavors of China, Japan, Hawaii, and beyond- with tantalizing and innovative results." "New Wave Luau" includes enticing fusion recipes like Lobster Won-Ton Ravioli in a Curry Potato Sauce and Gingered Vegetables in Truffle Broth. 

Eleven years after New "Wave Luau," Wong released his follow-up cookbook "The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong," which earned a Ka Palaoala Po'okela Book Award for Excellence in Cookbooks (via Watermark Publishing). After flipping through this beautiful cookbook and admiring the gorgeous photos (which according to his website, Wong took several of himself) we couldn't help but salivate. We were most intrigued by the recipe for Singapore-style Coconut Kim Chee Curry Seafood Stew. That's quite a delicious mouthful, if you ask us.

His restaurants suffered due to COVID-19

For 25 years, Alan Wong's Restaurant was a Hawaii institution. Along with the flagship King Street location and spinoff Pineapple Room in Oahu, he also operated Alan Wong's Amasia at the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui. His eateries also included Alan Wong's Hawaii, located in Tokyo Disneyland, and Alan Wong's Shanghai (via Honolulu Star-Advertiser). Sadly, however, his restaurant empire began to shrink in recent years, and due to declining business as a result of COVID-19, his last remaining spot, the original Alan Wong's Restaurant, shuttered for good (via Honolulu Star-Advertiser).

Upon closing his King Street location last November, Wong, forever selfless, posted on his website, "I wish every restaurant and business, every person having a difficult time today, best wishes and keep the faith and hope. Please continue to support our local agriculture: farmers, ranchers, fishermen, producers, & businesses who remain open. The silver lining is that we will learn from this, and reopen the doors for something else, in a better time."

He gives back to his community

Chef Alan Wong has made it a personal priority to give back to his community. He serves on the boards of both Leeward Community College, the Culinary Institute of the Pacific's food service program, and the Hawaii Agriculture Foundation (via Alan Wong's). In 2001, he was honored by Kapi'olani Community College as a Distinguished Alumnus. In 2002, the University of Hawaii also honored him for his contributions to the state. John Morton, vice president of community colleges for the University of Hawaii, told Pacific Business News, "Alan quietly says 'yes,' and then quietly exerts positive influence in this community. He is a leader in his profession and a leader in the community."

Wong has also held a place on the board of Easter Seals Hawaii for the past several years, leading both of the organization's Chefs du Jour event, and Gingerbread Festival, which funds a home economics program for children with special needs. As reported by Pacific Business News, Wong has become a business force that does not stop at his restaurant doors. He works with a variety of industries and organizations, creating markets for locally produced goods and raising money for local charities. "His involvement in any event ensures that things will be done in a quality manner," John F. Howell, president and CEO of Easter Seals Hawaii, told Pacific Business News. "His leadership is by example, and his mentorship is highly valued."

You may have seen him on TV

While Alan Wong may not have his own Food Network show (Food Network executives, get on this, please!), he certainly has sprinkled in a few TV appearances here and there. According to IMDb, he appeared as a guest judge on the Season 2 finale of "Top Chef." In 2005, he guest starred on Anthony Bourdain's show, "No Reservations." He has also been featured on the Food Network's popular show, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," not to mention the handful of documentaries and specials in his repertoire. His special, "From Roots to Recipes with Culinary Chef Alan Wong and Ed Kenney," aired in December 2021 on PBS Hawai'i.

It really is a shame that he isn't on television more regularly, because he is an absolute delight to watch. Humble to the core, Wong is always impressing everyone both behind the camera, and those sharing his spotlight with his flare for creating beautiful Hawaiian dishes, and his seemingly effortless culinary talent.

He loves to travel

Alan Wong is quite the jetsetter, according to a fun interview he had with Johnny Jet. According to Wong, his culinary travels have taken him to 31 countries on five continents, and he's not done yet. Wong says that he loves to travel, and hasn't yet visited a country he didn't enjoy. And while he may be a bit biased, he finds Honolulu to be the friendliest city he's experienced thus far. He says that his favorite World Heritage Site is a toss-up between The Great Wall of China and Juju Island, where he went scuba diving with the Haenyo (women divers).

And if you're looking to travel with Chef Wong, he will be the featured guest on the Seawind Tours and Travel Connoisseur's Cruise. The all-inclusive 12-day voyage is scheduled to embark from Athens, Greece on April 16, 2022, and the ship will make stops at additional Greek ports as well as Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel. Travelers can expect plenty of shore activities to pair with Chef Wong's cooking.

He's probably not the richest chef in the world

Is Alan Wong the richest chef in the world?  According to Wealthy Gorilla, Wong has a net worth of $1.1 billion, which would make him wealthier than more familiar food industry icons like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck. To many it would be a shock that would Wong would beat out all of the celebrity chefs one might expect to hold this title, and, in fact, this distinction might just be a case of mistaken identity. Jetset Magazine argues that this isn't accurate information, pointing to the fact that Wong is sometimes confused with confirmed billionaire Allan Wong, founder of electronic gaming behemoth VTech Holdings.

As much as we respect Chef Wong's humble beginnings, hard work, and passion for his culinary artistry, his numerous achievements probably didn't push his bank account past the billion dollar mark, and earn him the status of the world's wealthiest chef.